August 12th, 2011
12:10 PM ET

Bachmann faces theological question about submissive wives at debate

By Eric Marrapodi, CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

(CNN)– Thursday night in the Fox News GOP debate in Ames, Iowa, Rep. Michele Bachmann, R-Minnesota, was asked by columnist Byron York whether she would be "submissive to her husband" if she were elected president.

Before the congresswoman had a chance to answer, a chorus of boos rang down from the audience.

"Thank you for that question, Byron," Bachmann responded with a wry smile. "Marcus and I will be married for 33 years this September 10. I'm in love with him. I'm so proud of him. What submission means to us, it means respect. I respect my husband. He's a wonderful godly man and great father.

"He respects me as his wife; that's how we operate our marriage," she continued. "We respect each other; we love each other. I've been so grateful we've been able to build a home together. We have wonderful children and 20 foster children. We've built a business and life together, and I'm very proud of him."

"She answered it the most appropriate way in the context it was being asked. She was being asked a deeply theological question in front of millions of Americans," said Gary Marx, the executive director of the Faith and Freedom Coalition. "That's why there was such a strong and visceral booing over the very premise of the question."

Marx, who was in the balcony at the debate Thursday, said that for Iowa evangelicals, this is a nonissue.

"Most evangelicals know it's not easy to teach in a 30-minute sermon on Sunday. It's impossible to answer in a minute sound bite. Her answer about respect is the only one that can be given," he said.

The question of wives being submissive to their husbands comes from a passage in the New Testament in Paul's letter to the Ephesians. The letter was originally written in Greek, and there are various translations of the Greek word Paul uses.

"Whatever someone thinks Paul means of submission of wives to husbands ... it doesn't leave any room for exploitation," said David Matthewson, an associate professor of New Testament at Denver Seminary. "I would say her response was very consistent with the text."

In the New International Version translation of the Bible, the version most preferred by evangelical Christians and nondenominational churches, a camp Bachmann has said she belongs to, Ephesians 5:22-24 are translated as:

"Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife as Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Savior. Now as the church submits to Christ, so also wives should submit to their husbands in everything."

The letter goes on to say in verse 25:

"Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her."

"The English word 'submit' is as good a translation as any without using a bunch of words. The problem, though, is the word 'submit' in English carries connotations for most readers that may not have been there in the Greek," Mathewson said. "In English, we think of forced submission or exploiting. ... I don't think that's in the Ephesians passage."

In the King James Version, the first mass-produced English translation of the Bible, the word is translated as "submit."

In Eugene Peterson's translation of the Bible, "The Message," which aims to use more common English, he translates submissive as "understand and support your husbands in ways that show your support for Christ."

Historically, the fifth chapter of Ephesians has been taken in context of Paul's writings to mean Christian spouses should operate as loving equals, though the word "submissive" has long been a divisive one for Christian women.

"It seems it's been, in the 20th century, to have caused a lot of issues in North American Christianity," Mathewson said.

Former Alaska Gov. Sara Palin, another prominent evangelical politician, weighed in on the issue Friday in Iowa.

Palin told CNN's Don Lemon, "That's her opinion, that, to her, submission to her husband means respecting her husband, and I respect my husband, too."

Lemon asked, "If (husband) Todd said don't run, would you not run?"

"I can't imagine my husband ever telling me what to do politically," Palin responded. "He has never told me what to do when it comes to a political step, and I appreciate that. I respect you for that, Todd; thank you."

Bachmann identifies herself as an evangelical Christian. Her congressional office said recently that she has been attending a nondenominational church as her schedule allows.

She has shown over the years that she is fluent in "Christianese," using words and phrases that ring true to evangelical listeners.

She has long been a darling of evangelical voters, serving as keynote speaker at anti-abortion events in Washington and making the rounds at prayer rallies at the Capitol. It is one of the reasons she is expected to do well in Iowa, where the GOP base is filled with evangelical voters.

Her faith has caused a few bumps in the road in the campaign. Her husband's Christian counseling program came under fire by critics for a controversial therapy. She formally pulled her membership in her former church days before she formally announced that she was seeking the White House.

But Marx points out that fielding a question like this in a debate only helps her. "In Iowa, it reiterates that evangelical identity she has."

And, he noted, the last Republican to win the Iowa caucus in 2008, former Southern Baptist preacher Mike Huckabee, got asked a lot of questions about the finer points of his faith, too.

- CNN Belief Blog Co-Editor

Filed under: Belief • Christianity • Church and state • Michele Bachmann • Politics

soundoff (1,672 Responses)
  1. larry

    All of you who are trying to neutralize her original statement by giving a more palatable meaning for the word submission must take into account that in the Bible it never says men should be submissive to their wives. Those kinds of statements in the bible have been used for generations to make women lesser than men. Luckily most of us have overcome that but apparently not Michelle Bachman.

    Of course if her husband is gay (which I think he is) he loses all his biblical powers over her!!

    August 12, 2011 at 5:46 pm |
  2. Al Stefanelli

    I've never seen so much spin as I am seeing now by scrambling Christians who are trying to modernize a very old, deep-rooted and thoroughly explained principle of how the bible portrays women, their position within society, their status within a marriage, and their authority in their households. How convenient it is how the fundamentalist Christians cherry pick the bible, holding certain passages as immutable, but feeling free to bring modern interpretations to others.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      Such is the conundrum you face when trying to apply unchanging, Bronze-Aged absurdities to modern society.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:56 pm |
  3. carlos

    she wanted to say her wife of 30 years.............now there are only 20 foster children???? before there were 23.......any way you see it, it is all government SUBSIDIES, who could refuse that chunk of money........

    August 12, 2011 at 5:45 pm |
  4. JJ

    What's really hilarious is this idiotic belief on the part of religious male twits that they cannot be men unless they have their foot on top of their wives. Talk about male insecurity. The only thing more hilarious is women who agree with that point of view. That's the definition of female insecurity.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
  5. Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

    My hunch is she is a freak with the leather while hubby wears the mask

    August 12, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
  6. Devin Gray

    This is just classic! She follows word-for-word the parts she agrees with, she doesn't follow the parts she doesn't agree with, and she "interprets" the meaning so she can give politically expedient answers! HYPOCRITE!

    August 12, 2011 at 5:42 pm |
    • free will

      Yes, she has free will to determine what she believes. That's very controversial in religion where the flock is supposed to all believe exactly the same and do the same. Line item veto is extremely important and I'm glad when people exercise it.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:50 pm |
  7. Keldoarama

    Can somebody explain to me what an "evangelical Christian" is? How does that differ from your garden variety Catholic, Episcopalian, Baptist, etc?

    August 12, 2011 at 5:41 pm |
  8. Tracy722

    They should have asked all the men on the panel if they require their wifes to "submit" to them.

    However since it was asked, I believe she did answer in good taste. If she were to become president, her husband as a U.S. Citizen would therefor have to submit to her as President. Correct?

    August 12, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
  9. Tina

    That is not the meaning of submissive as used in the bible when pertaining to a husband and wife.

    Either she doesn't know her bible or she does and she is more concerned with pandering to feminists that she is being true to the word. She should not be ashamed or embarassed to own up to it's true intent.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:39 pm |
    • anothermuse

      And what pretell Tina is it's true intent? The biblical scholars seem to be struggling with it, but it appears you can shed light on the best way to translate something to English 800-1000 years after the author dies..

      August 12, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
    • free will

      Feminism espouses equality among the genders. Why do you feel threatened by that, Tina?

      August 12, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  10. JJ

    hate to burst the stupid bubble, but let's talk facts, not fantasy.

    1. The action or fact of accepting or yielding to a superior force or to the will or authority of another person.

    Noun: A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

    Looks like this another Shrub-style repukeblican who doesn't even have control over the English language.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
    • axle

      let me ask you. have you submitted to any law? or law enforcer or anybody?
      have you not paid your taxes? do you run stoplights?
      did you ever listen to any of what your parent asked for you to do?
      I think you did or else you would have ended up being illiterate,
      submit doesn't sound as bad as you like it to be does it?

      August 12, 2011 at 5:58 pm |
  11. Jennifer

    I'm a Democrat and I think Michelle Bachmann winning the presidential election would be a travesty for this country, but Byron York's question was ignorant and rather unprofessional. Let's talk about real issues folks, like jobs and education. There is separation between church and state in this country, so we don't needed to be asking about our candidates' religious beliefs. They shouldn't be factors in office.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

      However it is in issue and good question when she crosses the line and wishes to impose her relgion. It is a very fair question to an evangelical nut job.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • Tina

      Michele Bachmann doesn't believe in the separation of Church and State. She seems to be a proponent of a fundamentalist theocracy. Also, all the question did was asked her to comment on HER OWN EXACT WORDS. For these reasons, the question was very relevant.

      We make a mistake when we view this question through our eyes instead of her belief system. Suggest you read the New Yorker magazine article on Ms. Bachmann. It gives real insight into what her foundational experiences are.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:44 pm |
    • Devin Gray

      But they ARE a factor, Jennifer, because republicans make them a factor. They hold christian prayer breakfasts and try to legislate their religious beliefs onto all of us. It's a fair question, and an evasive, hypocritical response. Michelle Bachmann believes in following the literal meaning in the bible word for word until it's not politically expedient. Classic!

      August 12, 2011 at 5:47 pm |
  12. Dennis

    That question comes from her husband telling her to be a tax attorney . She didn't want to be a tax attorney but she said she had to submit to him. It's not a bible question except for how she sees her role as a wife and a president though her Evangelical eyes. It is an important question.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
  13. jaymes35

    That's it. Let's keep mixing religion with politics. The founding fathers of this country must literally be turning over in their graves.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • Steve

      They turned over years ago... especially with all the gays and blacks cryin about something.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:40 pm |
    • Dennis

      If they can literally turn over in their grave then they have larger problems.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:53 pm |
  14. SCOTO

    Utter nonsense. The bible was written in a time where there wasn't any doubt about what was meant by "submission".
    This is just 21st century rationalization when the literal translation become "inconvenient"

    August 12, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      Bullseye. I always enjoy watching the hijinks Christians and other religious extremists must go through to try and duck and dodge out of the way of their own religious scriptures' poor word choices.... I think that passage in the Bible is pretty clear what "submit" means– when it elucidates further telling wives to obey their husbands like Jesus. Not much room for misunderstanding there.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • anothermuse

      So an expert in ancient Grekk are you? This may be a surprise but the books of the bible weren't written in English until hundres of years after their were orginally penned.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:43 pm |
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      Nice try with the usual convoluted/circular Christian logic, ANOTHERMUSE. You can argue about whether the Greek manuscripts should be translated literally as "submission" or not, but you will have a much harder time trying to tell us that "obey your husbands as you would Jesus" means anything other than what it states at face value. Logic 101.....

      August 12, 2011 at 5:52 pm |
  15. The Right's Right

    We have a chance for Govenor Rick "jesus" Parry to lead us out of the sinful oasis of the papists and heathens.
    We can be taken to the the cusp of the b0s0m of Mary the mother of all reformed h00kers.
    We can be saved at the altar of the H0ly Spirit. Texass can lead the way so we don't become socialists.


    August 12, 2011 at 5:32 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

      You forgot about the lifting of the hands and speaking in tongues and jumping around like a spaz

      August 12, 2011 at 5:34 pm |
    • The Right's Right


      August 12, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • The Right's Right

      ....and just say "yes"

      baby jesusm had immaculate p00p ~ no smell

      August 12, 2011 at 5:38 pm |
  16. Greg

    Oh I see, now NOW it's ok to not take the bible literally. Thanks Mrs Bachmann.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
  17. *frank*

    The words of Paul, taken in sum, just scream:
    1. power-tripper
    2. jerk
    3. disingenuous
    4. self-hating homo
    Anybody who doesn't see this is either not very perceptive or lying to themselves.

    August 12, 2011 at 5:31 pm |
    • Guest

      Or they're just an idiot like you. You forgot to add that one to your list.

      August 12, 2011 at 8:21 pm |
  18. Gary Roberts

    Her husband is closeted Gay and as effeminate as they come.

    (not that there's anything wrong with that)

    August 12, 2011 at 5:30 pm |
    • Anti Christian Taliban Schizophrenics

      Gary Roberts

      Her husband is closeted Gay and as effeminate as they come.

      (not that there's anything wrong with that)

      I agree that there is nothing worng with it. But I find it interesting that her husband is obviously gay and her stance on the matter. lol

      August 12, 2011 at 5:35 pm |
  19. Harman

    "and god said to me, be submissive"
    where does GOP get these nut jobs from? these are our leaders and then we wonder why this country is going down the drain

    August 12, 2011 at 5:28 pm |
    • BY

      Our country was founded on the notion that "men are endowed by their Creator (God) with certain inalienable rights". Apparently, she's not the first leader in our history to recognize a personal God who has a will.

      August 12, 2011 at 5:37 pm |
    • Fr33th1nk3r

      Please explain what logic you used to arrive at the conclusion that:

      "men are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights" = "a personal God with free will"

      Was this religious logic and reading comprehension at its finest again?

      August 12, 2011 at 6:24 pm |
  20. John


    August 12, 2011 at 5:27 pm |
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About this blog

The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.